We’ve been a little quiet on the group website since the start of the school summer holidays. We’ve sent a series of emails to parents and guardians, but recognise that grandparents, retired members, scouting alumni and more have an interest in our Scouting in Penistone. Hopefully, this update will provide some key updates around what we’ve been working on, what we’ve been challenged by and what we’ve left to do.

Over the summer, the leader team took some time out to recharge before getting stuck into preparing for a new term of Scouting. Of course, amid the pandemic, things aren’t quite as simple as a reminder of section meeting times and that we’re looking forward to seeing the young people at their sessions. There are some additional checks and balances, more governance and control, plus some investment in the change required.

Scouting, similar to other youth-based provisions, are deemed essential by the UK Government. There can be no doubt of the mental health impact the young people might find as a consequence of the lockdown restrictions and the alterations we are all currently experiencing. Like young people, we would prefer to get back to face-to-face Scouting. So it’s there we’re focusing our energy. Rather than hosting ten Zoom sessions a week, we’re running four with a view to balancing things with face-to-face in the near term. We’re up for the challenge and have been busily working on what’s needed.

Updates and changes to the Scout Hut

We are very proud of the Scout Hut, and feel very fortunate that the young people have it to enjoy and make use of. I wanted to share with you some of the changes we’ve made over the last few months. Not all of these are COVID related, but the recent downturn in building use has allowed us to improve the facilities for everyone.

  • External lighting has been fitted and is linked to dusk-to-dawn sensors
  • High-resolution CCTV covers the outside of the property and inside our storeroom
  • A security alarm system has been fitted
  • External signage has been updated, both from a group branding perspective and COVID related
  • At all entry points, plus some other locations, hand sanitiser can be dispensed automatically
  • At all entry points, a QR code can be found where all those 16+ are encouraged to scan in via the NHS COVID-19 app
  • Access to the ladies toilet has been relocated. Originally off of the entrance hall, the door is now off the main hall
  • The heating controls have been modernised, with a better scheduling and smart temperature feature so it’s the right warmth at the start of meetings
  • Digital signage has been installed in the entrance hall and beaver lodge. This helps us get quick visual updates to parents/guardians whilst they wait to collect their young people and provide visual reminders on other points for the young people
  • We’ve added extra levels of control around access to the building. This helps protect against the accidental interruption of private bookings and supports keeping the building COVID safe
  • All of the guttering has been replaced and soakaways cleared. We, therefore, shouldn’t have any issues with mud gathering behind the beaver lodge, or impromptu showers off the downpipes when it rains
  • Value Floor Clean has been in and done a sterling job thoroughly cleaning all our flooring
  • The building has gone through a thorough clean with some touching up of paint/woodwork

There are additional things we’re working on, all with the goal of being safe, secure and right for the young people’s needs. There are some cosmetic changes we’d like to make in the future; please look out for shout outs for help at those times.

Group restructure

Back in January, we ran an adult volunteer recruitment programme. We had recognised that adult volunteers were stretched – often helping to support more than one section. Such a situation isn’t tenable long term, and we discussed collapsing the group down into fewer sections so we could provide a more stable and engaging number of leaders per youth section.

We had a positive response to that recruitment session; however, with COVID affecting many livelihoods and some of our leaders have planned to move on (many having been leaders through their own children’s time in Scouting), we’ve some adult volunteers having either reduced their commitments or moved on.

For the long term success and sustainability of the group, we’ve made the difficult decision to close three of our youth sections. One from each of the age group (one Beaver colony, one Cub Pack and one Scout troop). This fit with our youth membership numbers too – with no intake during the lockdown and some young people not wishing to continue without face-to-face, it made the most sense.

The young people currently in those sections have been offered places in one of the remaining sections. The adults who volunteer within the sections being closed we are working with to place them in alternative roles with the group.

As I mentioned above, these changes will allow the group to provide consistent and positive Scouting for young people. The leader team will not be as stretched as they previously have and given the financial climate, we must pay much closer attention to our overheads – the rental of space at Thurlstone Primary school being a saving to the charity monies.

I am confident that we will grow in number again; we do not need to be the largest, we need to be the best we can be for young people. With Barnsley District also going through a period of change, we’ll continue to forge strong links with other groups within the District, particularly our neighbours over the hill in Silkstone who is also undergoing a period of change.

Getting back to the face-to-face sessions

Explorer Scouts already have something in the diary to meet at Silverwood Scout campsite in the near future. Our Scout troops have the fundamentals ready for their outdoor programme, we’re making the final preparations needed to support their leaders in putting that on. Cubs is where we will need the most additional support and will shortly be engaging with parents and the community to bolster our team – even for the short term – so we can deliver some face-to-face programme. Beavers, given their age, are the most tricky to plan a COVID safe programme for. This doesn’t mean we can’t / won’t – but we are learning from our initial older section experiences first. The beaver team have been planning a fabulous programme and I can’t wait to see the faces when elements are revealed to the young people!

We are planning on sharing with you how we will manage the drop off and collection processes. Where we can, we’ll do a video walkthrough of what to expect or how things look. We’ll need to take into consideration some building or location-specific requirements and how we’ll offer fair opportunities whilst keeping to the mandated low numbers of only fifteen young people at a time! There are about two-hundred young people on the books at Penistone – we want everyone to have an opportunity each month and that’s why we’re working hard to run a balanced programme.

Phew, anything else?

Well, yes – but I’m well aware I get carried away with my messages! So, in short:

  • We’ve grown our Exec which will help massively
  • We have a youth member on the exec (more on that soon)
  • Payments are moving to Online Scout Manager soon
  • We’ll be offering a payment break when we launch online payments – don’t touch your standing orders until then, please!
  • We are working on plans for some sort of virtual camp given over 50% of the young people want one before Christmas!

And breathe…